Hearing on Street Vendors Gets Heated by xvp12563


									NOVEMBER 14, 2008, 5:33 PM
Hearing on Street Vendors Gets Heated
By Colin Moynihan AND Sewell Chan

Street vendors, like these men seen in Union Square on Friday, would face regulatory
changes under a package of proposals before the City Council. (Photo: Katie Orlinsky for
The New York Times)
Updated, 6:30 p.m. | The floor and the balcony of the City Council chamber
were both filled on Friday morning as hundreds of people assembled for a
hearing on eight bills that would change the ways vendors are regulated in
New York City. But the hearing turned acrimonious — and at times confusing
— when representatives of the Bloomberg administration came forward with
an unrelated proposal to fingerprint people arrested for unlawful vending.
The bills the Council considered would, among other things, increase to
25,000 from 3,100 the number of full-time food vending permits; increase to
1,023 from 853 the number of merchandise vending licenses; restrict book
and magazine vending in certain heavily trafficked areas; prohibit vendors
from leaving pushcarts, stands and goods unattended for more than 30
minutes; and ban food vendors from covering any ventilation grill, manhole,
electrical-transformer vault or subway access grating.
The first two hours of the hearing were taken up with discussion on those
measures, including testimony by officials from the Department of Consumer
Affairs, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Police
But then the hearing veered off course when Shari C. Hyman, the mayor’s
deputy criminal justice coordinator, spoke. She said that the Bloomberg
administration wanted to change state law to require the fingerprinting of
people arrested for unlawful vending — a means of cracking down, she said,
on unlicensed vendors who unfairly compete with licensed vendors, crowd
sidewalks and endanger pedestrians.
“These bills do not address the heart of the problem — the lack of meaningful
penalties for those who violate the law,” she said.
Currently, she said, people arrested for unlawful vending are not finger-
printed unless they fail to provide proper identification. They make their way
in and out of the criminal justice system — “often in a matter of hours,” she
said — and their cases are frequently dropped, making it “impossible to track”
people who are arrested repeatedly for the same crime.
“As a result,” Ms. Hyman said, “an arrest for unlicensed vending amounts to
little more than a nuisance to many of these unlawful vendors, and is absorbed
as a cost of doing business.”
Ms. Hyman added, “Any meaningful attempt to address this problem will
necessarily involve changing the state law to require that individuals arrested
for vending-related offenses are fingerprinted as part of the booking process.”
The eight bills under consideration, she said, would affect only lawful vendors
and “do nothing to deter unlicensed vendors or more harshly punish those
who violate the laws.”
Some Council members reacted with surprise.
“You say you don’t like any of the bills in any shape or form and you just want
to talk about your bill, which you never introduced?” Councilman Leroy G.
Comrie of Queens, who led the hearing in his role as chairman of the
Consumer Affairs Committee, asked Ms. Hyman.
“This is incredible,” said Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn. “You’re just
talking to us about fingerprinting and not addressing any of the issues,
whether it be police harassment or overcrowding.”
Ms. Hyman said that the mayor’s office could support some of the bills before
the Council. She said that the city proposed the fingerprinting in 1990 and that
the idea was being revived because the Police Department needed a “valid
enforcement mechanism” to crack down on unlawful vending.
Mr. Comrie asked that the committee members address provisions within the
proposed bills. “We’re bouncing all over the place,” he said.
Ms. Hyman and the other city officials went on to discuss the way money is
stored when vendors are arrested and how long and whether vendors should
be allowed to leave stands or pushcarts unattended.
But over the next hour or so, Ms. Hyman and Susan Petito, the assistant police
commissioner for intergovernmental affairs, continued to raise the issue of
fingerprinting. At one point it came up during a discussion of vending in
Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
“Fingerprinting alone is not the panacea or the cure-all,” Mr. Comrie said.
Other than the fingerprinting proposal, perhaps the most important bill would
raise the number of general-vending licenses to 1,023, a 20 percent increase
from the current cap of 853, unchanged since 1979. An estimated 1,000
applicants are on a waiting list for such licenses, and the waiting list was
closed several years ago.
James Williams, a merchandise vendor on Chambers Street and a board
member of the Street Vendor Project, which has more than 750 members, said
the “one good idea” among the eight bills was the proposal to increase the
number of licenses and permits available. He called the other proposals
confusing or unnecessary, saying there was little evidence that vendors were
covering subway grates and that the proposal banning vendors from leaving
their goods unattended would only make it easier for the police to confiscate
vendors’ properties.
“Who here has not had a family or child-care emergency that has made them
leave their work for more than 30 minutes?” he asked.
Members of a group called Vamos Unidos held a rally and press conference on
the steps of City Hall, arguing that the number of full-time food vending
permits should be expanded to 25,000 from 3,100.
“Street vendors play an important role in the local economy,” a Vamos
member, Rafael Samanez, testified in the Council chamber. “Amidst the worst
economic crisis in decades, the city has a chance to create thousands of new
jobs by increasing the number of food cart permits and general license
Representatives of the restaurant industry, which sees itself as competing with
the food vendors, disagreed.
A member of the New York State Restaurant Association, Michael Murphy,
said: “This proposed intro is a direct threat to thousands of neighborhood
retailers who are struggling in an era of rising rent, higher taxes, and increased
regulatory abuse.”
John Durso, president of Local 338 of Retail, Wholesale and Department
Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers, cited similar economic
factors, saying food vendors selling produce could hurt grocery stores.
“The proliferation of these carts near established food stores, combined with
the downturn in the economy, have resulted in the expected closing of six
stores where we represent workers, five in northern Manhattan, one in
southern Queens.”
But Hilda Jaimes, a member of Esparanza del Barrio, a street vendor
organization, asked the council members to grant new licenses.
“Well beyond cultural and human reasons a reasonable cart few would provide
the city with additional revenue, which is certainly need now more than ever.” 

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